By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider
The night before Super Bowl LI, over 40 NFL players partnered with culinary superstars to help relieve hunger at the 26th annual Taste of the NFL.
The Taste of the NFL is the largest league-sanctioned Super Bowl “Party with a Purpose.” Each year, big name NFL players partner with big name chefs from each NFL city to help raise money. Each $100 raised buys 800 meals. Over 25 years, the event has raised over $25 million with 100% of the proceeds benefitting food banks in and around NFL cities.
The formula is simple – but remarkably effective. Top chefs from each NFL team’s city offer mouth-watering tastes of their city’s finest cuisines. Over 2500 guests buy $700+ tickets to stroll through the NFL-themed stations, sampling wine and interacting with NFL greats. A handful of Hall of Famers don their gold jackets and sign autographs alongside other NFL active players and legends – all volunteering their time (many year after year) - to help relieve hunger.
NFL Legend “Benchwarmer Bob” Lurtsema and his former Minnesota Vikings teammate, Paul Krause, teamed up to sell “lunchbox” raffle tickets to partygoers. The duo talked with fans, signed autographs, took pictures, and told stories of their playing days. Each lunchbox they sold contained event swag and gift certificates along with a chance to win two tickets to the Super Bowl. They quickly sold all 300 lunchboxes for $100 each, raising an additional $30,000 to help relieve hunger.
Taste rookie, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Bryan Walters, jumped at the chance to represent the Jaguars at the Taste of the NFL. Walters, an eight-year NFL veteran who won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, knows that Super Bowls present great opportunities to make a difference. “When I learned that as many as 1 in 6 Americans may be food insecure, I knew I wanted to be a part of changing the statistics. There’s no better place than the Super Bowl host city to make a big difference.”
In addition to Walters, active NFL players included center A.Q. Shipley of the Arizona Cardinals, running back Fozzy Whittaker of the Carolina Panthers, and punter Sam Martin of the Detroit Lions.
NFL Legend, former guard, Billy Ard has represented The New York Giants at The Taste of the NFL for a decade. “I grew up in an upper middle class family,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was in the NFL and asked to participate in fundraisers that I started to realize there were people who didn’t know where they might find their next meal. Like the other NFL legends and Hall of Famers who attend, Ard volunteers his time to fight hunger.
In addition to NFL players and legends, Olympian Carl Lewis, actress Alyssa Milano, The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, Travel Channel’s celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, and Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, helped at the event. The Band Perry closed the night with a live musical performance.
Next year, The Taste returns to where it began, in Minneapolis, the Host City for Super Bowl LII. In the last 25 years, the Edina, Minnesota-headquartered event has helped provide over 200 million meals for those in need – a success by any standards. Players, chefs and celebrities alike look forward to giving back to the greater Minneapolis area – where the idea to combine football players and great chefs to help relieve hunger first began.
Rachel Terrill is a leading researcher on love and marriage in professional sports. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication from The University of South Florida. She teaches at Northwest University and serves as a family advisor for the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University. Her work has been featured in radio, television, online, and print publications. Rachel is the wife of Craig Terrill, who played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2011. She can be reached at www.rachelterrill.com.